In 1997, Majora Carter, a native of the South Bronx neighborhood of Hunts Point, moved back in with her parents to save money after graduating with a Master of Fine Arts from New York University. That’s when she learned about plans by Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s administration to build a waste transfer station in her community, which already suffered from severe pollution produced by nearby plants. Angry and determined, Carter organized local environmental justice groups to win the fight against the transfer station and install new public green spaces in Hunts Point.
In 2001, Carter founded Sustainable South Bronx, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building a sustainable green economy in the South Bronx through education and green jobs training. Her work won her a MacArthur Foundation grant in 2005. She has been called the “Rosa Parks of the green jobs movement.” Carter spoke with Sojourners assistant editor Jeannie Choi about what it takes to eradicate environmental injustice and why the time for a green economy is now.
Jeannie Choi: How do you get people—from community members affected by environmental injustice to investors and politicians—interested in building the green economy?
Majora Carter: People have to see their self-interest in supporting whatever it is that we’re putting out there. When I found out that the city and state planned to build a huge waste facility on our waterfront, I was really alarmed; but many people in the neighborhood weren’t because they were so used to living this way. It wasn’t until I helped make the connection between the waste facilities that were located in the community and the neighborhood’s high childhood asthma rates that people became angry. They saw their self-interest tied up with the environmental injustice in their community, and that’s when they felt the rage that I was feeling.